random thoughts to oil the mind

Category: Politics Page 1 of 9

[:en]Generally a category of complaints.[:de]Einträge mit politischem Kern

Brexit in Germany

You almost have to feel sorry for Greg Hands, sitting as a guest on Anne Will’s show, trying to defend Tory policy. Invited to a five-to-one Brexit bashing, it’s a debate of the ilk where the quacks aren’t invited in the name of ‘balance’. From the off, and as if to distance himself from the madness he’s supporting, Hands immediately claims to have been anti-Brexit, to have been anti-Boris during the leadership change. But not one to let principles get in the way, he’s supporting both of them because ‘democracy’. What follows is a virtuoso display of logical acrobatics skills as he attempts to defend his position: the shittiness of Britain’s democracy (being old is apparently a compliment?); that the referendum somehow showed clarity of purpose; that Boris threatening to ignore the law to push through a no-deal Brexit is democracy in action; that proroguing parliament is standard procedure and clearly shouldn’t be reconsidered at such a crucial juncture; that an election could show what the people want, but a second referendum would be undemocratic. If he weren’t sitting there looking like a naughty schoolboy called to the headmaster’s office, his mind-bending mental tricks might have earned some applause.

Unfortunately for him, the loudest applause comes when Rolf-Dieter Krause said that the only time Boris Johnson doesn’t lie is when he says his name. You kinda want to give Hands the benefit of the doubt, acknowledge that he’s standing with his back to the wall, maybe find the language barrier in his favour. But then the contents of his words would sound hollow in any tongue. ‘I didn’t vote for Brexit,’ he protests on more than one occasion, trying to distance himself from the shitshow he’s fighting for. Because ‘democracy’. Already proud to show his lack of a spine or conscience, Greg shows he’s also packing a crate of gullibility, when arguing that Johnson is trying to renegotiate, that negotiations are taking place, that there is a solution to the backstop.

He almost looks like he’s break down in tears when discussion turns to the little bone Frau Merkel threw Boris, the notion picked up in British newspapers that the German chancellor was keen on finding a solution within 30 days. The irony of the situation is completely lost on him: the true of the backstop is that it only comes into effect if Britain fucks up in resolving the Irish border, and it is entirely unpalatable to the British parliament because they know they will fuck up.

This is where Hands proudly gets his homework out: a special report he’s been preparing that will finally solve the Gordian knot. I couldn’t help laughing at the top-rate accidental trolling which followed from host Anne Will. Asking the rhetorical question, whether the EU needs to take Britain seriously when they say the ball is in Britain’s court, ‘well here’s Greg Hands, and he not only has a ball, he’s brought a brochure too.’ Sorry Greg, everyone else knows that someone asked you to write that report so they could throw it in the bin. Hope you didn’t put much effort into it.

Whether it’s stupidity, gullibility, or simply brazen loyalty to his football club party, Greg is dancing to the nationalist tune like a good little boy, genuinely espousing the lies and subterfuge of the hardliners or, more likely, swallowing them whole himself. As he seems to keep reminding us, he didn’t want this, he didn’t vote for this, but he’s happy to play his part as a useful idiot. Sitting as a guest on the show, isolated and alone, trying to defend someone else’s corner across an ever widening gulf whilst simultaneously protesting his own innocence, Greg perfectly embodies a microcosm of the shitshow playing out on the European fringe.

[Full programme]

Jimmy Aldaoud

As Thomas Hobbes once fathered the phrase, life before the central state was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. In Jimmy Aldaoud’s eyes, life with the United States wasn’t much better. Aldaoud was victim to the kind of cretinous bureaucracy touched by a sprinkling of laughable xenophobia. Not that there’s anything funny about the result. A man died as a direct consequence of the kind of senseless and callous rule-making that surely the gobbiest semi-democracy in the world ought to be a little ashamed of.

What’s particularly interesting is the reactions on both sides of the spectrum. Those more moved by their hearts wonder how this differs from murder, somehow an interesting hyperbole given the fact that the American state does in fact take lives on a regular basis, whether through using excessive force in policing, enjoying a bit of Goliath vs. David on the international stage, or occasionally executing its citizens.

Meanwhile, the heartless end of the spectrum wonder what all the fuss is about. On paper, everything was legitimate: the man was an illegal immigrant, he committed some petty criminal acts, and he was duly deported to his home country. Never mind the fact that he had never been to the country he was being deported to, that he was clearly unwell and in need of medical treatment, that he was a member of a minority who had fled religious persecution, and that his death was an entirely predictable outcome from his deportation.

The case is clear as mud for anyone with a couple of braincells, though it would be going too far to assume that the persons processing his case would be in possession of such aptitude. But that’s why it’s mind-boggling that safeguards are not in place to prevent this. Clearly for a person who missed out on being a citizen by 6 months, who had never known another country, who had been invested in by the state for the formative years of their life, who were to all intents and purposes already citizens of the nation, surely the first response should be to give him a few forms to fill out and a helpful nudge that ‘we consider this important’? For a nation built on the expropriation of land from other people, it’s insane how the United States are so blindingly obsessed to birthrights being tied to the soil.

But who gives a shit, right? He was only an Iraqi.

[Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash]

6 Ways of Breaking the Brexit Deadlock

If at first you don’t succeed, you fail.

GLaDOS, Portal

Ardent Remexiteer Theresa May managed to spend the latter half of her illustrious spell as prime minister trying to ram her deal through the Commons like a skipping needle on a strong and stable turntable. Now she’s abandoning ship, the sycophants and navel-gazers are lining up around the block to be the next hero to try to pull the sword from the stone. Unfortunately, with yon parliament rejecting the deal, and selfsame parliament rejecting no deal, the likelihood of the next helmsman managing to successfully navigate this particular brown waterway looks slim. And with the public still split down the middle, even a new referendum would probably only turn back the clock as far as 23rd June 2016.

Meanwhile the EU looks on in amazement as the revolution eats its children. They can wait; it’s Britain that so desperately wants to leave… ish. If only the Conservative Party were thinking with Portals… instead they’re all obsessed with having/eating the cake. (Spoiler alert!)

Since Article 50 is turning into a euphemism for perpetuity, here are seven bloody ways to break the bloody deadlock.

1. Bosworth Field

It’s been far too long since the Glorious Revolution saw that conclusive and permanent defeat of the traitorous papist Tory party [wait, what?]. No doubt some of the current crop remember it well. In the spirit of fair play, it would only seem appropriate to give them another crack at the whip. Rather than assaulting one another with American cowjuice, maybe the hardest of Brexitards and Remoaniacs can meet on the field of battle for a glorious victor-takes-it-all decider. I’ve no doubt traditionalists like Jacobus Moose-Rogg have only been chomping at the bit to saddle up and fly the standard.

2. Partition Party

Cyprus, Israel, Ireland, India – Britain has its fair share of examples around the world for peaceable coexistence between loving neighbours. In fact, British meddling consultancy work was often instrumental in setting up those amicable arrangements in the first place. The next government could have the whole thing unravelled in two shakes of an ear of wheat, and Britain can both have its cake and allow someone else to eat it. We’ve already got a map. Maybe that nice fellow Trump can do us a deal on a wall pretty garden fence in part-exchange for some bits of the NHS in his free trade agreement.

3. Nigel Mandela

Gandhi marched to the sea, Mao slogged it around China, and the Crusaders of Jarrow trudged down to London. If only Farage had listened to The Proclaimers, he might not have flaked on his own little galumph to the capital.

But while marching is one way of showing your staying power, some long walks don’t need you to move anywhere. Instead of drowning the airwaves with their gobshitery flawless political debate, maybe our most impassioned politicians could give their mouths a rest and let their arses do the talking. All we need to do is lock up the loudest Remoaners and Brexiteers for as long as necessary; they can leave at any time, and whoever gives up last, gets to decide the outcome. Maybe while they’re in there the rest of parliament might be able to get some actual work done, and the rest of us can enjoy some semblance of normalcy. Well, at least for one morning… given his track record, Farage would be out by noon!

4. Toss a Coin

When things get too close to call, sometimes there’s no better way to prevent a logjam than call on the wisdom of chance. The London Eye would only need a quick lick of paint to make a wonderful symbol, dismounted and rolled into Trafalgar Square to decide the nation’s fate. The mother of parliaments can vomit its members onto the square to form the biggest assembly of tossers the planet has ever seen, while the nation watches the televisualised event as their alderpeople reinvent the time-honoured tradition of casting lots.

After all, more important things have been decided on the flip of a coin before now.

5. Neverendum

It’s been over four hundred years since Britain added something worthwhile to the national calendar, and what better way to commemorate buffoonery and intolerance than through an annual celebration. Every 23rd June should henceforth be rejoiced as Referendum Day, when the polity goes down to the ballot box to check if the political barometer has discernibly changed, before sitting around a burning effigy of David Cameron and celebrating the almighty fuck-up their greatest democratic achievement as a nation.

6. National Lottery Brexit Special

Lottery tickets have been changing people’s lives for a quarter of a century, ever since King Arthur granted his house a royal commission [is this right?]. Why not furnish one winning ticket the right to change everyone else’s lives? The Brexit EuroPhilians Lottery would give the lucky crackpot winner the right to decide exactly how the Brexit debate should be settled.1This would also make a great way of choosing the UK’s Eurovision participant. Surely they couldn’t do much worse than average. (Guaranteed no winning tickets to ensure the decision just keeps rolling over and over and over.)

[Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash]

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1. This would also make a great way of choosing the UK’s Eurovision participant. Surely they couldn’t do much worse than average.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

Surveying today’s political landscape, it’s easy to suppose we’re approaching a precipice. Passionate intransigence divides societies into blocks which, even where decidedly secular, are rallied around with religious fetishism. It seems that ideological boundaries are increasingly hardening, poisoning the political dialogue, preventing constructive discourse and contributing to almost maddening levels of senseless blustering.

In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt investigates the concept of morality and shows how differing political groups can reach such disparate conclusions from the same starting point. Gradually building up his argument, Haidt succinctly retreads a lot of territory covered elsewhere in more detail, but which is vital to understanding his standpoint.

Of particular importance is the idea that morality has little if nothing to do with rational thinking. The human mind reacts intuitively to situations at a very basic level, leaving our cerebral rationality running to catch up when it comes time to explain ourselves. Moral reasoning is almost a misnomer; moral intuition is at the core of our decision-making. What this means at a basic level is that people tend to react to statements with their guts, and later defend those reactions with their minds. In politics, this is epitomised by the kind of debate you find on populist media stations, like this example from LBC’s James O’Brien (also available on their website should YouTube receive a letter):

Moving the goalposts

In the exchange, Brexiteer Ashley is asked to justify his strongly held position. Pinning down his argument is like trying to catch an errant moth flitting around a brightly lit room. It’s all those EU laws the country won’t have to obey. Which laws? Well, it’s not so much the laws, as how political the discussions are in Brussels. Politicians talking politics? Well, it’s not really the politics, it’s the uncontrolled immigration. From outside the EU? Well, if Britain were no longer in the EU, it would be better able to integrate the immigrants. Err… right.1I’d argue that’s why you shouldn’t ask people a stupid question, but that’s a debate for another post.

It makes for amusing radio, but for O’Brien it’s an exercise in futility. This kind of spiralling debate has no end, because the fundamental impetus for the decision wasn’t arrived at rationally, but rather – at least judging by the responses – morally. Tear down the edifice stone by stone if you will, the invisible foundations go much deeper, and cannot be struck by logic’s hammer. When every vestige of rationality has gone, the argument generally reverts to something along the lines of ‘I don’t really know, it’s just wrong.’

Where the book gets interesting is where Haidt investigates the different reactions to moral issues amongst people of different social backgrounds and political persuasions, and attempts to weigh their stances up on a six-axis matrix. This ‘Moral Foundations Theory’ measures the axes of care versus harm, fairness versus cheating, liberty versus oppression, loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion and sanctity versus degradation. While as human beings we are all affected by these, the differences between us are essentially down to our weighing and valuing these axes differently.

An interesting theory, though his ultimate conclusion seems to be the laudable but rather yawnable axiom that people need to understand where the other party stands and find the middle ground. A laudable suggestion, but one which doesn’t really do anything to help solve our intractable problems: as Theresa May might one day realise, a half-baked Brexit is about as likely to please all parties as a half-aborted baby.

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1. I’d argue that’s why you shouldn’t ask people a stupid question, but that’s a debate for another post.

A Pleb by Any Other Name

A German-British dual national changed her name by deed poll to give herself the name Silia Valentina Mariella Gräfin von Fürstenstein. Armed with a passport and presumably enough ancillary documentation to cosh an elephant (or at least a German bureaucrat), the woman attempted to have her decision acknowledged back in Germany. She was rebuffed, however, on the grounds that the surname contained an aristocratic moniker, and this decision has now been upheld by the German Federal Court.

In Germany, even marginally unusual names can be a difficult prospect at times, decisions by the European courts occasionally drag the country into the past. Double-barrelled surnames are of particular contention, although some ten years ago the European Court of Justice indicated that Germany cannot reject the names of fellow Europeans as accepted in their country of birth.

Interestingly then, it seems the same doesn’t hold true for persons attempting to game the system by changing their names abroad. The court’s refusal to acknowledge Frau Gräfin von Fürstenstein’s name draws on a law dating from the Weimar Republic which, in the name of equality, abolished noble titles, at once turning them into regular surnames and preventing their being awarded in future.

So quite why it should be a problem for such surnames to be invented, rather than awarded, defies all logic. Surely acting in such a way is entirely counter to the whole purpose of the law. If your precious countess is no longer a countess, but no one else can call themselves countess, then that title becomes special again. If you really want to wipe out the nobility, then there’s no better weapon than the disdain of ubiquity. Florian König is no more a king than a flower, and I’m sure the courts wouldn’t have raised any objections had the fair lady changed her name to Silia König. But to call herself a countess? The cheek!

Although Silia would have recourse to defer the matter to the European Court, it would unlikely provide any succour in this instance, as Peter Mark Emanuel Graf von Wolffersdorff Freiherr von Bogendorff previously discovered. The German state’s sworn aim to provide equality for all German citizens before the law would apparently be endangered by allowing a pleb to change their name to look like it were an aristocratic title. This honourable goal, enshrined in Article 109 of the Weimar constitution, is fast approaching its hundredth anniversary. Using that as an excuse to prevent little people changing their names screams of hypocrisy writ large. If the alleged goal is to burn down the palace of prestige, couldn’t we find some more effective methods than matches? A compromise that lasts a century isn’t conciliatory, it’s a full-blown concession. In comparison, just over the border in Austria, the same noble goal was managed at a stroke by having all noble titles expunged. That decision has seen support at the level of the European Courts even today when trying to ‘import’ noble titles from Germany.

More than a century on and Germany is still ostensibly waiting for its noble titles to go extinct, while the courts effectively defend their right to be worn and not to be diluted. If we’re really to put an end to the stigma of nobility, Germany needs to progress beyond the compromises of a century ago and offer something recognisably approaching equality before the law. The law claims to be blind, but behind closed doors it seems it still wears a monocle.

[Photo by Cederic X on Unsplash]

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